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Portable Fingerprint Scanners for Law Enforcement: Identity Verification on the Street

Law enforcement officers face a practical problem of identifying individuals on the street. People often tend to hide their Identity by giving fake names or misinformation. On-duty field officers do not have direct access to their office resources, which can offer a great help in verifying identity claims made by suspects. It limits their ability and forces them to depend on traditional approaches like checking ID cards or similar documents. It became much more complicated when such identification drive is induced by an incident not confirming with the law and a lot of people need to be identified.

Regardless of the criticality of the incidents, the method of Identity Verification remains the same during such efforts. In this article, we will put ID card based identity verification in witness stand to figure where it lacks and what is the solution.

police capturing fingerprint and facial featureImage: Portable fingerprint scanners for law enforcement applications come with ability to capture fingerprint as well as facial features that can be confirmed against a backend database via the internet.

Identity verification on the street

There may several reasons why a law enforcement officer will need to identify someone on the street. She might find a person suspicious; there may be a recent incident nearby; officers have been put on high alert due to possibility of any criminal or terrorist incident, etc. Regardless of the reason, identity verification starts with asking questions like name, place of residence, reasons to be there, etc. It gives officers enough time to judge the person and need of verification of the information provided.

Now the officers away from computers and biometric scanners of their office, primarily ask for an ID to check the validity of the information provided, and here is where things might go wrong, extremely wrong. The ID presented may be a genuine looking fake ID. If it is fake, but the officer is convinced, she might let the suspect go, resulting in an error, which may be disastrous in the time to come.

In today’s scenario, where stolen and manipulated IDs have become a commonplace, identity verification has become a touch job for law enforcement officers, special when they are in the field. At the office, they have access to all sorts of resources and technological means to figure if an ID is counterfeited or not, but in the field, they have to rely on their skills and ability. Unfortunately, fraudsters have also become skilled in manipulating ID cards. With the help of technology, genuine looking IDs can be easily printed.

Identity verification with ID cards: a hit or miss game

Other than dealing with fake IDs, law enforcement field officers have to deal with different kind of people in verifying surrounding and environmental conditions. Be it a daytime, night, rain or snow, they have to work with the same efficiency. They have to check people on their foot as well as in their vehicles. They have to deal with it in different lighting conditions which may an impact on their ability. These different factors can certainly affect the efficiency of identity verification. For example, paying attention to details will be harder during the verification of printed ID when it is raining.

Identity verification has always been a hit or miss game for law enforcement field officers when it comes to printed IDs. If officers are not satisfied with the information and identity claim, they have to bring the suspect to the office for further investigation, which makes them leave their area and consumes time.

Sole dependence on printed IDs and taking decisions on the basis of what is presented as an ID (which may be manipulated, stolen or completely fake) can lead to serious consequence like an escaped criminal or a terrorist incident which could be prevented. Photographs on printed IDs are usually of mediocre quality; sometimes they are so bad that it becomes hard to identify even its genuine owner.

Another problem is that people may not always carry their ID cards, unless they know they would require it for a certain purpose (e.g. for boarding a flight). Relying on ID card based identity verification and expecting that people will always carry them will lead to unnecessary troubles for both, the subject as well as the law enforcement officer.

Mobile biometric scanners for law enforcement come to rescue

Mobile biometrics needs no introduction, it is everywhere. It has shown its prowess on smartphones, tablets and mobile computers. It has become an essential feature without that the specification sheet of the present day gadgets seems incomplete. Entangled in PINs and pattern locks, mobile biometrics like fingerprint and face unlock appeared like a magic and took the world by storm. We are not done yet, biometrics on next generation smartphones is going to take this trend to next level.

Technology firms and online service providers have been doing all sorts of experiments with biometric identification on mobile phones. People can authenticate payments, shop online and secure their phones with face of fingerprints. Since these devices have ability to recognize individuals with their biometric identifiers, it offers an opportunity to use them for identity verification of others. If we have right apps and secure access to biometric database, identity verification of individuals it is not much to ask for from present day smartphones. However, fingerprint scanners used on smartphones do not offer a law enforcement grade fingerprint processing ability as they rely on partial print of users.

fingerprint mobile id scannerImage: A police officer displays fingerprint mobile ID scanner with the smartphone for on-the-spot identity verification of suspects.

To solve this problem there are two routes to take

Use of external fingerprint mobile ID scanners on smartphones

An external fingerprint scanner confirming the law enforcement standards can be used for the purpose. It may be a portable device to be connected with a wire or in the form of a large smartphone case that also house a fingerprint scanner. In either case, this external scanner is backed by an application on the smartphone, which has access to law enforcement database that has data of all the identities stored. Just by a quick fingerprint or facial scan, law enforcement officers can verify claimed identity in most efficient and secure way.

Portable biometric scanners specifically designed for law enforcement

Typically, smartphones are designed keeping everyone in mind and not for a specific application or user group. Law enforcement applications have their own set of challenges and their identity verification tools have to offer much more than just being powerful and biometrically enabled. Today’s smartphones have enough features and processing ability to get through a normal day in a law enforcement application, yet they cannot be called ideal devices for these applications. Here we are talking about a use case scenario which faces varied challenges including security, harsh environment, violent subjects and people not willing to cooperate.

A portable fingerprint identity solution should be robust and rugged device that can bear abuse and rough handling. At law enforcement operations, officers may have to deal with harsh environment, situations and people. The ideal device would be water proof, dust proof (e.g. IP 67/68 tested), and cleared military grade environmental testing for temperature, pressure and other extreme conditions. For example MIL-STD-810, which is a United States military standard for Environmental Engineering Considerations and Laboratory Tests. These devices should also have wireless connectivity options to connect with resources like criminal databases, people on surveillance, most wanted criminal database, etc.

Following are the features / specifications these dedicated police scanners may come with:
  • Larger and certified fingerprint scanner (from an standardizing or law enforcement agency) to collect high quality prints (unlike smartphone sensors, which rely on partial prints)
  • Modern smartphone like SoCs like Qualcomm Snapdragon and OSes like Android
  • Communication ability including 4G LTE, WiFi, Bluetooth
  • GPS Sensors
  • Ability to read documents. For example: standard: ICAO 9303 compliant documents (passport, visa, ID card) and ISO 18013 compliant documents (driver’s licenses)
  • Front and rear camera to take photographs of evidences, suspects, etc.
  • RFID (Radio Frequency Identification), NFC (Near Field Communication)
  • Rugged design, water proofing (e.g. IP 65) Military standards for environmental protection
  • More durable battery (than smartphones)
typical portable police fingerprint scannerImage: Typical design of a portable police fingerprint scanner (also known as Mobile ID Scanner or police scanner).

AFIS goes mobile with portable fingerprint scanners

Today’s mobile devices are more than a slab of display. They are internet enabled multi-tasking devices backed by power of cloud resource that are ready take up any task thrown at them. The boundary between computers and smartphones is increasingly blurring. With latest SoCs, mobile phones are getting PC like processing ability, and when even this ability falls short, cloud computing comes to the picture. With cloud computing, mobile devices can leverage the power of cloud servers and get results right on your phone screen.

The same is true for portable fingerprint ID scanners for law enforcement applications. They have all the features of modern smartphones and beyond. And law enforcement applications they need to frequently connect with the AFIS or ABIS server to send match request and receive result.

Database of AFIS systems may contains a large numbers of biometric templates including their digital images and demographic of the subjects, which result in the storage size grow quickly. Storage size of large biometric databases can grow in terabytes and beyond, depending on numbers of records and components they include. Loading every bit of information in law enforcement portable scanners would be an impractical solution. Thanks to cloud computing technology that portable police fingerprint scanners do not have to carry any data locally, yet they can work like a mobile AFIS systems that captures biometric data and produce results.

Real world implementations of portable fingerprint police scanners

Mobile biometrics that used to look like a science fiction once, has become a common tech now. Identity verification with portable fingerprint scanners is also on the same route. The devices and verification approaches discussed above have already seen day of light in many parts of the world. Law enforcement agencies understand that printed IDs are no more the trustworthy proof of identity. They can be easily manipulated or faked by fraudsters. This problem is not limited to ID cards, people have even manipulated secure documents like passports to hide their identity while crossing international borders. All these inadequacies associated with identity cards, documents and other possession or knowledge based identification methods have paved the way to put efforts in biometric identity verification on the go.

Following are some of the examples of real world implementations of mobile ID scanners enabling law enforcement officer to verify identities and perform background check on the spot:

West Yorkshire Police, England

In February 2018, West Yorkshire Police officers have been handed over portable fingerprint scanners that can link up to their smartphone app. This app has access to UK’s criminal fingerprint and biometrics database (IDENT1) and the Immigration and Asylum Biometrics System (IABS) and can run fingerprint verification against them.

Demonstrating the device, Chief Inspector Ian Williams commented:
“For the first time we can now identify somebody on the street through their fingerprints, through those databases. We can get photographs back of the individual, we can get a full PNC (Police National Computer) record of the individual as well which gives us a really thorough identification.”

Plymouth Township Police Department, Pennsylvania

In June 2017, Plymouth Township Police Department came up with a high-tech solution against falsifying identity on the street. Through a grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency’s Local Technology Workgroup in conjunction with the Pennsylvania State Police, the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association (PCPA) has provided the department with mobile ID scanners to assist with real-time identification.

plymouth township police portable scannerImage: A Plymouth Township Police Department official showing portable scanner cases used for on the spot identity verification.

The scanner looks like smartphone case that contains a fingerprint sensor to collect fingerprints. These scanners can be carried by law enforcement officers and used to positively identify subjects with records in the Pennsylvania State Police Automated Fingerprint Identification System through a secured server established by the PCPA and the Pennsylvania Justice Network.

On the occasion, Detective Andrew Moretti, said that mobile ID scanners would be especially useful in traffic stops and theft investigations:
“We ask for name and date of birth. We try to verify information to identify the person. Sometimes we look for drivers’ photos or prior arrest photos to try to identify somebody, but if we can’t, and the person’s trying to give us a bad name or something like that, prior to this device, we would have to secure them — because that’s our policy — put them in a police car and bring them back here (to the police station), put them on the live scan machine and wait for a response from the state police to say, yes, that’s who the person is.”


Identity verification of suspects held during the field duty has always been a problem for police and law enforcement officers. These suspects may try to falsify their identity by passing misinformation and may even present fake or manipulated IDs. It is easy to take people though identification in the law-enforcement agencies’ office where officers have all the technological advantages. But it becomes a different story on the street. Despite having all technological goodness at the office, they have to rely on manual methods of identity verification in the field. These manual methods include verification identity card or similar documents to confirm identity claims made by a subject or suspect.

But now things are increasingly changing with the rise of smartphones and mobile biometrics. With the portable fingerprint scanners, law enforcement officers can verify identity on the spot. They can either make use of mobile fingerprint ID scanners specially designed for the purpose or use an external scanner that can be attached with the smartphones. With the power of mobile biometrics and smartphone tech, AFIS becomes mobile AFIS.

The post Portable Fingerprint Scanners for Law Enforcement: Identity Verification on the Street appeared first on Bayometric.

This post first appeared on Biometric Technology Blog By Bayometric, please read the originial post: here

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Portable Fingerprint Scanners for Law Enforcement: Identity Verification on the Street


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